Because I Knew You -Guest Post by Beth Maxey

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to my friend, Beth Maxey. I met Beth when we sat down at the same table in an Eastlake cafe and she smiled at me. Beth blesses people with a bright smile wherever she goes. I love that about her.

In the writers’ group that Beth and I share, we write out our work by hand for half an hour, then read the raw version of our brain dump out loud. It takes courage, and it deadens the spirit of perfectionism. I have been moved deeply by the things Beth wrote while she sat next to me, and I finally asked her to be part of this series.

True to her deep-thinking nature, she’s taken this prompt where it’s never gone before. It’s beautiful.

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Because I Knew You by Beth Maxey

I grew up as secular Christian—or a Santa Claus and Easter Bunny believer; a set of beliefs and habits that had nothing to do with Jesus of the life hereafter. Religion as it was taught to me (loosely by my parents, much more dogmatically by theirs) was hard for me to grasp. Though I never believed that I could be saved or go on to live eternally, I realize now that in my own way I believed in a soul: I was me, different from you. That me-ness seemed self-evident. It was not about salvation or god’s love.

But it was about love. My idea depended on this belief in a self and soul, me-ness and you-ness  that in some way was unchanging. In my idea of love that self and soul loved other selves and souls—and—it expected them to continue to be the selves that they always were, unchanging.

I was not conscious that I expected this constancy, I only felt the pain of living in confusion when the people I loved—including myself—grew in ways I didn’t always love, or even recognize.

My husband was raised a Budddhist, in much the same way that I was raised a Christian, barely, loosely, in the tide of those with stronger beliefs that surrounded us.

One day we were driving back to his parents’ house in Sri Lanka after visiting an ancient Buddhist temple. We were in Sri Lanka because his father was dying. Disease had made him angry, sometime mean and unkind. I tried every way I knew to connect, but my husband, his son, said simply, “He is gone.”   His body was dying, but this was long before what we usually think of as dead.

I thought often of the time when my husband or I might be ill.  It made me want to believe. “I love you,” I said. I turned to him in the car. I liked the idea that even if we faced illness we could be together after we died.

My husband was quiet for a moment, staring into the road. When he spoke it was not what I thought he would have said.

“Who is me?” he asked. “Me as I am today or tomorrow, or when we met, or when we die? Even if that is years apart?” He looked at me for a second. “Look at my father. If he died today, who would my mother meet in heaven? The man he is now? Or when they married?”

“His soul?” I said. “His essence.”

“No,” my husband said. He was shaking his head. “There is no such thing. They are connected, but they are always changing. Is the essence of a flower its bud or its bloom or its leaves?”

I felt sad, alone. I loved him. There was a him. His soul. I had one, didn’t I? Part of us is permanent, isn’t it? It was the moment I faced what I believed.

“And when I say I love you?” I asked.

He shrugged, “It means you love me now?”

I shook my head. “And what about later?”

“There is no later,” he said.

“And your father?”

My husband sighed. “He is gone. He is my father but he is not the man I knew. That doesn’t mean I don’t love him, it just means I don’t expect him to be the same.  He has changed.”

“And me?” I asked.

“We are changing too.” He thought for a minute. “I never liked the Christian idea: I love this person—this soul—you? And we get to be together forever?” His tone was doubtful. “But you aren’t the woman I married, or I the man. We are changing. We always will be. We change each other.”

I was quiet. I had not known this was how he felt—or I did either. I loved a soul he did not believe existed. How could he love me if there was no me in his mind? A few weeks later I asked him that.

“Because I get to love all might be, and will become. Because I have to love you today because tomorrow you might be different, and I might be too.”

And instead of feeling lonely and afraid, I felt free.

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Beth Maxey writes about travel food and life. Read more at www.twentyeightletters.com.

About Elise

Elise Stephens began her career in writing at age six, illustrating her own story books and concocting wild adventures. Stephens counts authors Neil Gaiman, C.S. Lewis, and Margaret Atwood among her literary mentors, and has studied under Orson Scott Card. She dreams often of finding new ways to weave timeless truths into her stories. Her novels include Moonlight and Oranges (2011), Forecast (2013), and Guardian of the Gold Breathers (2015), a finalist for the INDIEFAB Book of the Year. She lives in Seattle with her family. Follow her on Twitter @elisestephens and Author Elise Stephens on Facebook.

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